Pending Federal Rules Are Hot Topic at CCA Conference

New federal rules that the U.S. Department of Education is now expected to propose next week are dominating many conversations here at the annual meeting of the Career College Association, which represents more than 1,400 for-profit colleges.

Thousands of for-profit-college operators, financial analysts, faculty members, investors, and companies converged to take part in the three-day national conference being held by the association, which announced Wednesday that it will be changing its name to the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities.

The rules, which will mostly affect the for-profit-college sector, cover an array of issues, including misrepresentation of consumer information and how to define a high-school diploma.

The most-contentious issue has become a proposed rule, known as the "gainful employment" rule, that would withhold federal aid from for-profit programs whose graduates are likely to carry high debt-to-income loads.

The department has said its goal is to crack down on colleges that overcharge and underdeliver in training students for jobs right after graduation.

Similar issues are also gaining the attention of Congress. On Thursday, Sen. Tom Harkin, the chairman of the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, announced that his panel would hold hearings, beginning this month, to examine "issues related to the growing role of the for-profit higher-education sector, including the scope and rapid growth of the federal investment in for-profit higher education and the corresponding opportunities and risks for students and taxpayers."

Harris N. Miller, the president of the career-college association, said Thursday that the group welcomed the hearings. "The education landscape in America is shifting," he said. "Federal student aid in private-sector education is an incredibly important way to provide postsecondary access for all."

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